Retail Voice 2014: Jamie Braddy

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Jamie Braddy Headshot 0514Jamie Braddy Marketing Director, Co-Owner Parrot Bay Pools & Spas Fayetteville, N.C.

Jamie Braddy, co-owner of Parrot Bay Pools & Spas in Fayetteville, N.C., credits her voracious consumption of reading materials, research and education with helping her business blossom. “From what our suppliers tell us, per square foot, we’re killing it,” she says. Parrot Bay spans the building, retailing and service sectors, which keeps Braddy and her business partner/husband on their toes — but with a carefully selected retail location, a strong team and a “keep them happy” mindset, the company has found success.

Tell us about your retail location.

We actually lease a space in a high end, brand new area in a strip mall. There’s an upscale Italian restaurant, a yogurt store, nail salon, several boutiques, it’s a really great area. But it was very costly for us because no one had ever inhabited the space, so the build-out was completely on us, which we knew that was going to be an undertaking. We had to do all the painting, the lighting, everything. It was a show.

Having those high-end stores nearby would probably help you guys by association, right?

It did. And I just did research, I pulled the data on all the existing pools in the zip codes around us, and this area had the healthiest number of existing pools. And that’s what you need for a retail space, because obviously we’re going to be servicing the pools that are already in the ground. So I picked the location based on that data.

What kind of stuff do you carry?

We have Master Spas and Viking Spas. We just put up a small, 8-foot aboveground pool display, and we carry accessories, supplies, chemicals and Saffire Grills. We have large flat-screen TVs with rolling footage of pools we’ve installed, and we also have one by the hot tubs that shows hot tub information. And we even have a little TV to occupy the kids by the table where everybody sits to get their estimates. I used to be a teacher, so I think about occupying children.

That’s important!

It really is. And you would not believe how many people love it.

So how was 2013? What did you learn last year?

There are pool stores around us that are retail but don’t do any service. So I think that helps us in the retail avenue because people know that if they come in and can’t find a fix in the store, we have a service guy that can fix it for them. So I think that’s positive.

It also shocks me about how much people come in with their smartphones, see a product and touch it in the store and leave and go buy it on the Internet. You hear about it at every conference, but I’m amazed that it happens daily. I don’t know what the suppliers and manufacturers are going to do; I know they’re trying to do some stuff with MAP pricing, but they’re going to have to address it because its shocking.

Is there anything you’ve done to fight it?

Well, we have customers straight out ask us, “Can you match this price?” And if we can, we do, but sometimes we can’t. They’re buying it online for what I’m paying for it.

If it’s a vacuum, we say, “We sell a brand that if you buy it online, there is no warranty, whereas we are the warranty center for that automatic pool cleaner.” So we try to stress the fact that if you buy it here, you can get it repaired here. You don’t have to mail it back and be without your cleaner for a few weeks. So we try to do things like that, but it is hard, because sometimes you’re going to have that price shopper.

What else have you learned?

The other hardest thing I have found is educating the customer on chemicals. They are clueless! I hate to say it, but they do all this research on the front end, all this momentum building up to getting their pool. And then they get their pool, and they did no research about how to take care of it. Even people who’ve had their pool for five or six years still don’t know the difference between a sanitizer and a balancer. They’ll say, “As long as it’s clear, it’s okay.” And I’m like, “Well, nail polish remover is clear, but you don’t swim in it.”

Sometimes I think customers are trained to be very skeptical. So they think, “Are they telling me I need to balance my water so they can sell me more chemicals? My water looks fine, it’s clear, so there’s nothing wrong with it.”

So educating them on keeping their water balanced is really important. Maybe I focus on it because I was a teacher; I think people should know about their water.

What strategies have you tried to help educate your customers?

We try to do pool schools and pool orientations. We have vendors come down, we have a video resource page on our website that talks about chemicals and phosphates and all these things people may not be aware of.

Do pool schools work out for you?

We do when the weather cooperates. We are very limited in space, so we end up mainly holding them outdoors when we have a large crowd, so the weather has to cooperate. If you do a lot of giveaways, promote it and run a sale at the same time, then you will get a lot of people. It’s always good to feed them lunch, too. They will come for lunch and cupcakes. (Laughs.)

What are you focusing on for the 2014 pool season?

We’re focusing more on energy efficiency and a little bit more on safety. They changed our permitting requirements, so now, for example, people have to have a more audible alarm. If the alarm system for the house door chimed, they used to let that pass. Now our inspectors literally have to fill out a form with the name brand of the alarm. So we’ve got those in stock. The variable speed and two-speed pumps have been a huge hit, as well as our oversized filters.

Do your customers respond positively to the new energy efficient products?

They do. But we’re near Ft. Bragg, so our client base is unique. We have some clients that have lived here forever, but the military customers tend to be more transient. So some of those military clients, they don’t really care whether it’s energy efficient because they’re not going to be here. They don’t care whether the pool is fiberglass versus vinyl, they just want big and cheap because then they’ll let it be somebody else’s problem once they’re gone. So as much as I like certain products because I think long term, some of our clients do not.

What do you think is the most important thing to be a successful retailer?

Create a good team. You’re only as good as your people. I can’t be here seven days a week. I would love to be, as much as I am the Energizer bunny and I’m always vigilant about what’s going on, I can’t be at that front counter everyday. And so we constantly train our people, and customers come here because they like the people in the store.

Speaking of staff, how do you find great people for seasonal positions?

We are lucky that a lot of the pools we put in, they have teenagers or college kids. And so if you keep your client base really happy, they will send you their children! (Laughs.) So it kinds of works out really nice, and then they come back every year.

And because they come from pool families…

…they have pool knowledge, which is great. When we first started, I was like, “Oh my gosh, what are we going to do?” But then it just all fell into place. It’s just about treating people right.

Alright, Jamie, any other advice you have for fellow retailers?

I think it’s important to make your store inviting. More and more women are the pool buyers, so you don’t want a concrete floor and bare walls and no pictures. It’s a visual product, so make sure your store is inviting and welcoming, you have a good place to sit and you’ve got great artwork of your pools. I just think that’s really crucial.

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

READ MORE FROM JAMIE Jamie Braddy blogs about her experience in the pool and spa industry on her website, and also on the AQUA website 

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